Imagine Your Way to Success

Dr Cindra KamphoffBy Cindra Kamphoff, Ph.D.

Over the past several weeks, I have been learning hip-hop dance moves for my performance at Dancing with the Mankato Stars. I do not dance regularly, and I have never hip hopped before. Thinking about dancing in front of an audience has me pushing myself to new limits and thinking about the power of my mind in a new, cool way.

As I am working to quickly learn this new skill, it’s been helpful to use imagery in the process. Imagery is systematically creating or recreating an event in your mind. For example, I can use imagery to create a new event that has not even happened in my mind—such as rocking my dance performance. Or, I can recreate an event that has already happened. The power of imagery comes when you deliberately use it to improve your performance and create the future you desire.

Scientific evidence shows that imagery is a powerful tool. One study found that that 99 percent of Olympic athletes use imagery. Another demonstrated that imagery is the most powerful and most used mental skill by athletes. A third study showed that it can be nearly as effective in improving performance as actual practice, and a fourth found that when practice is combined with imagery, performance can skyrocket.

Imagery does not just apply to sports. You can use imagery to improve your ability and confidence to speak in public, prepare for a job interview or nail your presentation in the boardroom. There are numerous ways it can be used—but in each case, research supports the fact that imagery can decrease anxiety, improve confidence, enhance your ability to deal with pain and discomfort, help you solve a problem and assist you in learning a new skill (like hip-hop dancing!).

Imagery is more than just dreaming, though. It’s systemically using imagery every day or most days in a vivid, intense, controllable and emotional way. At The Center for Sport and Performance Psychology, we use the acronym VICE to describe how to best use imagery.

  • Vividness – Your mind does not know the difference between a real event and a vividly imagined event. Crazy, I know! To improve your vividness, use all of your senses—sight, smell, taste, hearing and feeling—to make your image come alive.
  • Intensity – Imagine your performance with the same intensity that you would feel if you were actually performing. A little nervousness is always a good thing – it means you are ready. Feel that same nervousness when you are using imagery.
  • Control – Being in control means that you are imagining what you intend to do in your performance. Controlling the image is absolutely key to imagery’s success. If you imagine flubbing up or making a mistake, you also need to imagine yourself rebounding from that mistake and letting it go just like a champion would.
  • Emotions – To make it real in your body, use your emotions to really feel it. What would it feel like to score that game-winning goal or to rock that presentation in front of potential clients? Feel all of the emotions that come with accomplishing your goal.

If you are not using imagery consistently, you are missing out in improving your performance. Include imagery as part of your daily routine. Take five minutes each day and see yourself accomplishing what you want and becoming who you want to be. From doubt to confidence, imagery will help you think like a pro and accomplish even more than you thought was possible!